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Testing Improves Learning; Quizzing Improves Student Exam Scores

2012 January 19

ResearchBlogging.orgIn a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Roediger, Agarwal, McDaniel and McDermott[1] provide additional evidence for test-enhanced learning as a way to improve memory.  It echoes an earlier study of Roediger’s in which he found in a controlled laboratory experiment that students randomly assigned to take a test had greater long-term retention than students randomly assigned to study the material.  In this new research, Roediger and colleagues replicate this finding in 3 quasi-experimental field studies.

  • Experiment 1: Students were quizzed on the material.  They then completed later items on an exam with items parallel to the quiz items.  Both chapter exam and semester exam scores of those completing quizzes were higher.  Students from multiple course sections participated, and different sections received different pre-test questions; the effect held only for those questions presented int the pre-test.
  • Experiment 2: Students were quizzes on the material.  They then completed later items on an exam with both parallel and identical items to the quiz items.  Again, exam scores were higher.  The design in this experiment was similar, except for the addition of a control condition.  Recall on the control was similar to that of the non-pre-tested items, lending additional support to the effect.
  • Experiment 3: Students were given a multiple choice quiz in class and encouraged to continue quizzing themselves at home using a web-based tool.  Students using the quizzing tool had higher exam scores on items from the quiz.

The third of these is the iffy-ist – the increased test scores could reflect higher-quality students rather than higher-quality studying, and it’s not clear to what extent the first testing effort or the home testing elicited the effect.  But the general approach did seem to work for at least some of them.

Test-enhanced learning is potentially valuable in several ways.  First, it is a potential application of gamification, which I covered last week.  By motivating students to complete optional quizzes using badges and other motivational game-derived elements, students may learn more (and enjoy it!).  Second, it is a potential pedagogical tool in both education and employee training.  For example, a mid-training 5-minute practice test may increase retention more than simply asking people to review their notes for 5 minutes.

But here’s the big question for me as an educator – does this mean that adding regular quizzes to a course will increase scores on the final exam, even if the quiz questions don’t appear on the final?  And perhaps more importantly, does that mean that students actually learned more, or is it because you focused their attention on the topics you knew you’d be testing on?  Future research is clearly warranted.

Footnotes:
  1. Roediger, H., Agarwal, P., McDaniel, M., & McDermott, K. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in the classroom: Long-term improvements from quizzing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 17 (4), 382-395 DOI: 10.1037/a0026252 []
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